The Needless Symbolism Of Trump's Declaration

On Wednesday, Donald Trump insisted that his declaration that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was “nothing more or less than the recognition of reality,” given that Israel has made West Jerusalem the seat of its government since 1949. Downplaying warnings that the move might provoke widespread protests from Palestinians, Trump promised that “the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty” in Jerusalem “are subject to final status negotiations between the parties.” Hedged with these qualifications, the declaration is merely symbolic, much like George W. Bush’s letter to Ariel Sharon in April, 2004, which asserted how “unrealistic” it was to expect from Israel “a full return” to the 1967 borders. (Those borders were precisely what the Bush Administration defaulted to when, with Sharon gone, negotiations became serious in 2008.)

But symbols matter, especially when it comes to a city notorious for them. On Thursday, thousands of demonstrators rallied in the West Bank cities of Hebron and al-Bireh, chanting, “Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Palestine.” Protests erupted in Gaza, as well, and the leader of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, called for a new intifada, or uprising, by Palestinians in response to Trump’s announcement. By nightfall, at least thirty-one people had been wounded by Israeli gunfire, and the Times reported that the Israeli military was dispatching additional battalions to the West Bank and that “the Palestinian response appeared to be teetering between a limited wave of protests and a full-blown explosion of violence, as schools were closed, stores were shuttered and the public largely observed a general strike.” Multiple Palestinian factions called for a “day of rage” to coincide with Friday prayers.

For most Palestinians, Trump’s declaration seemed like a symbol of old imperial fiat, an intention by the world’s superpower to hand the whole of Jerusalem to the Jewish people—a kind of Balfour Declaration for the city. Taken this way, as Robin Wright wrote, Trump’s action enraged Muslims throughout the region—especially in Jordan, whose King Abdullah has been most vocal in protest. Jerusalem always seems like the ground near a volcano; you never know when the great eruptions come, but you can almost feel the pressure building under your feet.

Read on at The New Yorker